As a rookie, Dustin Penner helped the Anaheim Ducks to the first Stanley Cup title in franchise history last season. They haven't fared nearly as well without him.
For the first time since signing with the Edmonton Oilers in the offseason, Penner returns to Anaheim on Sunday night to face his former club.
Penner had 29 goals and 16 assists during the regular season in 2006-07, and added three goals and five assists in the postseason during the Ducks' title run. But Anaheim chose not to match Edmonton's five-year, $21.25 million offer sheet to Penner, paving the way for the Ducks' second-leading scorer to join the Oilers.
The move triggered an ugly public spat between Oilers general manager Kevin Lowe and Anaheim counterpart Brian Burke. Lowe said he thinks Burke overreacted when the Oilers offered the big contract, and doesn't plan on speaking to Burke during Sunday's game.
"In some respects, Brian has tried to make it personal. But I'm not going to comment on that publicly," Lowe said Saturday. "He's certainly entitled to say what he wants to say. But there's people in this business who feel that any news is good news for the National Hockey League, and I think Brian subscribes to that theory."
Anaheim's title defense has gotten off to a rocky start. The Ducks (4-7-1) are near the bottom of the league as they're averaging 2.08 goals per game. They've also totaled only three goals during a three-game losing streak - one shy of their season-high from last season.
"I think the biggest thing is for us not to panic and start pointing fingers," Anaheim defenseman Chris Pronger said. "We're all making mistakes out there. It's a fine line between winning and losing. Those little mistakes we're making are costing us games."
Anaheim's defense stepped up on Thursday, but its offensive woes continued with a 1-0 loss to Phoenix. The Ducks have been shut out three times already this season - half their total from 2006-07 - and after scoring at least two goals in each of their home games last season, they've already been blanked twice at the Honda Center.
"Obviously we're squeezing our sticks," Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle told the Ducks' official Web site on Thursday. "Tonight, we missed open nets and we missed glorious opportunities. We seemed to get frustrated as the game wore on. The work ethic is there. The commitment to playing hard is there."
The Ducks could benefit from the return of Ryan Getzlaf, the team's leading scorer with seven assists and 10 points. He missed Thursday's game with an upper body injury. Rob Niedermayer also sat out with a groin injury and is day-to-day.
The Oilers (4-7-0) have lost seven of nine since opening the season with back-to-back victories. Despite getting their league-low third power-play goal of the season, they fell 4-1 at Los Angeles on Saturday.
"We've got to elevate our game and start turning these games where we play pretty well and lose into wins," Oilers coach Craig MacTavish said.
Penner had one goal and two assists in two games before Saturday, but was held scoreless against the Kings. Overall, he has two goals and three assists in 11 games.
Edmonton goalie Dwayne Roloson is 6-6-1 with one tie and a 2.61 goals-against average in 14 career games against Anaheim. Roloson, though, was in net for Saturday's loss, so Sunday's start may fall to backup Mathieu Garon.
Garon is 3-5-3 with a 3.68 GAA in 11 career games against the Ducks, but was 1-0-2 with a 1.62 GAA in three games - two starts - against them last season while with Los Angeles.
Anaheim goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere, meanwhile, is 4-9-1 with a tie and a 2.87 GAA in 16 career games against the Oilers.
The Oilers went 1-2-1 against the Ducks last season, losing both games at the Honda Center by a combined 11-3 score. Edmonton, however, won five of its previous six games in Anaheim.